Saudi Arabia will open its first cinema in more than three decades on April 18 in the capital Riyadh, with AMC Entertainment set to open up to 40 theatres in the next five years.
Unlike most other public spaces in Saudi Arabia, the cinemas won’t be gender segregated. The first movie to be screened in Saudi Arabia will be Marvel superhero’s “Black Panther”, according to sources Reuters spoke to.
Cinemas across Saudi Arabia were shuttered in the 1970s and ’80s after a wave of ultra-conservatism activism hit the kingdom.
In 2017, authorities said the ban on cinemas would be lifted as part of Crown Prince and de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plans to transform the kingdom’s society and economy.
Saudis are already major consumers of Western film and culture. Despite the cinema ban, Hollywood films are widely watched through other means.
AMC’s first cinema will be in the King Abdullah Financial District of Riyadh. The main theatre will include 500 leather seats and marble bathrooms.
“We think it’s going to be the prettiest movie theatre in the world,” AMC’s chief executive officer Adam Aron. “It’s a dramatic building.”
Saudi officials are looking to set up 350 cinemas with over 2,500 screens by 2030. Officials hope it will attract nearly $1 billion in box office sales.
“The restoration of cinemas will … help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation in the kingdom,” said Awwad Alawwad, Culture and Information Minister.
Saudi Arabia is looking to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons, which currently account for more than 90 percent of the state budget that employs most Saudi nationals.
The question of censorship still lingers in a country with conservative religious mores. But AMC’s Aron says that he expects the same versions of films shown in Dubai or Kuwait to work in Saudi Arabia.
“Hollywood has long ago dealt with the sensitivities of the Middle East and have adjusted film product accordingly,” he said. “Major Hollywood studios are showing films all over the Middle East right now.”